Socrates, it seems, never wrote a single line. What we know about him comes from the second hand accounts of Aristophanes, Xenophon, and Plato. It looks like Socrates refused to write.
A possible explanation for this can be found in Plato’s dialog Phaedrus. What Plato puts into Socrates mouth on the topic of writing there might actually reflect the opinions of the historic Socrates on this topic (Phaedrus, 275d, 275e).
Writing, Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing. And every word, when once it is written, is bandied about, alike among those who understand and those who have no interest in it, and it knows not to whom to speak or not to speak; when ill-treated or unjustly reviled it always needs its father to help it; for it has no power to protect or help itself.
Instead, according to Plato, Socrates prefers the dialectic method. In talking with people, he can answer questions and adapt what he is saying to the people he is talking to, something a written text cannot do.
Instead of piling up knowledge in written form, the ideal here seems to be wisdom, understood as a “living and breathing word of him who knows” (276a). Wisdom was passed from teacher to student and the student aimed for wisdom, not just knowledge. In its beginnings, philosophy was philo-sophia, the love of wisdom. The wise knows how and when to apply or not to apply the bits of knowledge, and is able to extend the knowledge if required.
In the human mind, knowledge is part of an active, creative process that can apply, adapt and modify it. The knowledge is always incomplete but it is extensible. The core of knowledge we have at any time may be thought of as surrounded by a more fluid “atmosphere” of dynamically changing thoughts and processes of experimentation constantly modifying the knowledge core.
What can be written down, on the other hand, is always only a snapshot of some part of the incomplete knowledge. What is being lost in writing is the creativity and the wisdom.
One trend in the history of western philosophy seems to be that people attempted to fill the gaps in the always incomplete knowledge that can be grasped in texts by replacing vague concepts by exact ones and by creating formal theories that contain the rules of how to apply the knowledge in an explicit form. The end point of this development may be seen in scientific theories trying to capture large parts of reality in formal texts that can be written down and from which specific statements about reality can be derived according to explicit rules and procedures. In institutions, this trend leads to a belief in formalized and bureaucratic procedures and processes. In philosophy, this trend leads to analytical philosophy. From the love of wisdom, philosophy turns into dealing with texts.
But when we investigate us humans, our minds, our societies and our cultures, this approach fails, or at least it is limited. Humans are creative and can invent new things outside the scope of any given theory. Any description of human culture and thinking we can write down will therefore be incomplete. Socrates, who had turned away from the philosophy of nature and instead started investigating the human world, seems to have had some understanding of this, so he talked, but refused to write.
To an extent, wisdom has fallen from grace among modern western philosophers, especially of the academic variety. But if we appreciate the central role of creativity in the human being and acknowledge the inevitable incompleteness of explicit knowledge, we might rehabilitate the goal of achieving wisdom to its rightful position, so that the dead words will come alive.
(The picture is from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Papyrus_of_Plato_Phaedrus.jpg. It shows a fragment of an ancient papyrus with a section of Plato’s dialog Phaedrus).